Chaotically reorganize with longing


Desire and longing are creatively destructive forces. I wrap up exploring Chapter 7: (Un)known Possibilities, with David Whyte:

… without the creatively destructive dynamics of desire and longing, our protected sense of self cannot be destabilized or subverted from our old way of being; we cannot be chaotically reorganized to accommodate ourselves to anything fresh.  A certain state of blinding ecstasy seems necessary for navigating the first crucial thresholds…

In other words, for each step into possibilities both known and unknown, I need to be willing to take risks. We are designed to be smitten with an idea as much as we are designed to be smitten with a person; we become ‘blinded’ in order to take the risk, so its not so risky after all. Whether in a relationship, trying out a new job, or a renewed commitment to self, work, family, city, etc, a leap of faith is what gets us across a threshold.

When courageously smitten, a sense of direction and purpose emerges as we make our way through the personal journey of life. Thresholds emerge to challenge us and our  longing pulls us through to new possibilities.  We emerge to new destinations. This happens when we allow ourselves to chaotically reorganize for what we desire.

The dynamic of focus, and emerge  creates the conditions for emerging possibility. Anywhere, in our neighbourhoods and on the soccer field, we create possibilities, especially if we prepare for possibility and create the conditions to see possibility. We can chaotically reorganize to see familiar and new possibilities that align with our longing, and being smitten with what we are aiming for helps us through each threshold.

Douglas Hofstadter:

It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a façade of order – and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.

The key is finding ways to reveal the unknown possibilities, the lurking chaos. Our work, then, is to chaotically reorganize ourselves to be smitten with longing.

In what ways do you/we chaotically reorganize to reach what you long for?


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Sources / Further Reading

David Whyte, The Three Marriages, p. 48

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This post is part of Chapter 7 – (Un)known Possibilities, here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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Winter pathways


Most mornings, I make my way to a bench at the edge of the North Saskatchewan River valley in Edmonton. At the beginning of winter, with a wee bit of snow, I am able to see how many people travel and where they go, and other creatures that  travel by land.

Winter footprints 1

Winter reminds me that it’s a big world to explore, with a big, ever-changing sky and variable conditions. Along with the coat, hat and mittens, my footwear needs to change in anticipation of the depth of snow I travel through. There are conditions where I fall right through, and other days when I can travel on top, and snow on ankle skin is not comfortable.

Winter path

As I explore my city from my perch, I now notice the snow receding, leaving grass flattened and exposed for new growth in the spring.

Flat grass under receding snow

I see now that when spring arrives shortly, I will miss the footprints, revealing who travels here with me, big human creatures and other small ones who move through when I am not here.

tiny animal footprints

I appreciate winter’s reminder that I can not see all there is to see. There are possibilities unknown to me.

What practices do you engage in to find possibilities unknown to you?

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This post is part of Chapter 7 – (Un)known Possibilities. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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I am fascinated by the tipping point where what is acceptable public discourse becomes clearly UNacceptable. Case in point – University of Calgary’s Tom Flanagan, who appeared in a maelstrom of news coverage over the last week due to some ill-conceived public remarks. The headlines tell the story:

It’s a precipice that can appear quite quickly, seemingly out of nowhere for the Flanigans of the world if they have grown no appropriate antennae. In Flanagan’s case, the lesson for us all is that any moment can become a public moment. A simple video recording or a photograph can be distributed widely in a short amount of time. The antennae we use for our immediate context, to judge what is proper to say/do, must grow to take into account what can be done with what we say/do.

Our antennae must tune into changing social life conditions. And they must work at scales, at all times, or we will be caught in the Flananigans, a threshold of collective response to the world we live in.

What do antennae at scales look like?

How do they help locate – and define – thresholds?

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This post is part of Chapter 6 – Emerging Thresholds. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:



Courageously smitten


Our work in cities is a convergence of direction, personal journey and emergence that results in new, emerging possibilities. These possibilities are both things we dream of and recognize, as well as possibilities that are unexpected, unknown to us until they arise.

Consider David Whyte, in The Three Marriages:

Being smitten by a path, a direction, an intuited possibility, no matter the territory it crosses, we can feel in youth or at any threshold, as if life has found us at last… But to start the difficult path to what we want, we also have to be serious about what we want.

Following this path of increasing levels of seriousness, we reach a certain threshold where our freedom to choose seems to disappear and is replaced by an understanding that we were made for the world in a very particular way and that this way of being is at bottom nonnegotiable. Like the mountain or the sky, it just is. It is as if we choose and choose until there is actually not a choice at all. 

A sense of direction and purpose emerges in our lives as we make our way along a very personal journey in life. Thresholds emerge to challenge us, inviting us to make our way to new possibilities. At this heart of this dynamic, we are courageously smitten with a path. This is the thread that pulls us through, allowing us to emerge to new destinations.

This dynamic takes place at individual and collective scales. At the scales of me and my city. We create our cities, and our cities are a platform for our never-ending journey.

John O’Donohue’s blessing, Time for Necessary Decision, shapes the arc of Nest City – these words stand out as I explore (un)known possibilities for us and our cities:

May we have the courage to take the step

Into the unknown that beckons us


What are you/we courageously smitten with?

What are you/we courageously stepping into?


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This post is part of Chapter 7 – (Un)known Possibilities. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:



Stand on the city’s river


Over the weekend, I found myself exploring the valley I visit most mornings, as part of my centering practice, from a different perspective. Instead of standing and sitting at the edge of the ravine, overlooking how the wild knits itself into the city, and vice-versa, I found myself leaving the top of the bank and heading down to the North Saskatchewan River.

As I peeled away from the infrastructure of the city, I was reminded to slow as I headed downhill, with the flow of the trail, where a stream used to be, toward the river.

bridge and slow sign

As I arrived at the river’s edge, I broke off the formal trail to explore a trail closed by officials, just above and beside the river. I walked along for a few minutes, but a wee path behind me was calling me down to the river herself.

river edge path

path down to the river

More specifically, the footprints on the river were calling me. As I had been walking parallel to the river, I realized the reason I was staying on the land was because I was afraid of stepping down, onto the river. Upon closer inspection, I could see that once down the bank I would still be on land. I could see the ‘beach’ on this outer edge of the river angling ever so slightly down to the flat of the ice, the river herself. I have spent a lot of time in my river city, but I have never been on my river. So I stepped out for a new view.

City from the river

After a few cautious steps onto the river, I noticed that I did not have the courage to venture out as far onto the ice as others had – I chose not to step out as far as many footprints left behind before me. My comfort had rippled out far enough, so I trusted my instincts and stayed put for a while, curious about this perspective of my river city in winter.

I have been pondering how the city and the wild knit themselves together. Cities begin with settlements that are appropriate to the geography –  early explorers and settlers navigated for settlement habitat. The city and the wild, however, are never fully separate. The wild reaches in, and the city reaches out, yet as I have walked, cycled and driven over this river for decades, I have not been on this river. I have stood on the river, and I recognize a need to be on the river in the opposite season, summer. This coming summer I will paddle through my city. What will my city look like? How will it change what I see, what I feel about my home?

Like most journeys, it is when I turn to return that I see something else.

the city's edge

The city is not simply up on the riverbank; it is in the river. Concrete remnants of construction and a beer can have reached down to the river. As I look downstream I see storm sewer outfalls that will whisk water away from the city into the river. The city continues to reach into the wild.

As I look upstream I see a couple making their way down to the river and making their way toward me. While the footprints on the river were a clue that others had been here before me, they were further evidence that others travel with me and that others travel further than me. There are so few situations when am truly the first to do anything, yet there are endless situations when it is my first time.

It occurs to me that first times can be daunting and exhilarating, scary and thrilling. First times, and how we handle them, play a critical role in our ability to see possibilities in all aspects of our lives, for seeing possibility often means seeing things from a different perspective, with a fresh look. A fresh look might mean a new physical perspective, or a mental one. It means finding a way to look anew at an old perspective, generating a ‘first time’ feeling that allows possibilities to emerge.

My lesson – stand on the river to see new possibilities. While I wasn’t the first person to look at the city from here, and I won’t be the last, that isn’t the objective. The objective is to find courage to step out on the ice and to simply see what I will see, and to see what I will do with what I see.

I had to step into a new place in my city to see me differently.

What do you do to create the conditions for seeing possibilities?


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This post is part of Chapter 7 – (Un)known Possibilities. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:



Performing possibility


My ability to ‘perform’ well, regardless of what is coming at me, has a lot to do with how I prepare.  Being prepared means I will be able to invite, see and explore new possibilities. My head needs to be ready, my body, and my spirit.

I need basic skills and knowledge. Going into a meeting, I find the delicate balance of knowing what I need to know, but not investing time and energy into what I do not need to know, trusting that others will bring that intelligence. There are many meetings I attend where I do very little to familiarize myself with materials ahead of time. There are other meetings when I spend hours reviewing material, getting briefed by others to ensure I understand critical points.

My head needs knowledge, but it also needs to be fully present in the meeting in order to perform well. That means that I have to look after my body. I need to pay particular attention to the amount and quality of sleep I get and eat good food that fuels me well. I also need to spend time “in” my body, doing physical things – walking, running, yoga, soccer, skiing.

I also need to engage Me, the true essence of me beyond ego, that is my spirit. This Me knows what I am passionate about and reminds me when I take the time to listen. This Me knows when I am heading off track and lets me know, when I take the time to listen. This Me knows what the next natural step is when I am facing a dilemma, and lets me know, when I take the time to listen. I engage Me as I write in my journal or as I talk to myself on a walk. I support this by ensuring I have the energy needed by making sure my body is healthy and well, and not letting my head take control.

This spirit piece is about balance, which means I need to give myself the gift of silence to hear what all three aspects of my being have to say. Part of my personal practice is meditation, simply sitting quietly without any pressure of having to figure anything out.

Whether for a soccer game or a meeting, I am ready for whatever is wanting to happen if my preparation is balanced. My intention is to be nimble, able to serve the possibilities that emerge in every moment.

What practices serve possibility in your life?


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This post is part of Chapter 7 – (Un)known Possibilities. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:



Neighbourhood soccer fields


The panic set in as we realized moments before our soccer game that the required game sheet and player cards were in a teammate’s living room.  They could be retrieved – maybe – just in time to avoid forfeiting our game.  Coach Tim hit the road – he knew it was a 7 minutes drive each way. We had 10 minutes until the formal start time. After that it was up to the referee.  Tim had 10 minutes to run a 14 minute mission.

We broke the bad news to the team. We were here to play a game that we could probably win, but we might default. We entered the field and began our usual warm up while Assistant Coach Dan spoke to the referee. As players, we were pretty sure that if we didn’t have the sheet and cards by game time, we would forfeit. It was a half-hearted warm up.

The referee decided to start the game 10 minutes late, without forfeit, if the sheet and cards arrived by then. This grace period gave Tim  20 minutes to run a 14 minute mission.

So there we were, with a much longer than usual warm-up, forever checking the clock as the numbers counted down. At first, it just felt strange to have more than 5 minutes to warm up, then the panic started to set in. After 15 minutes, Tim had not returned. I kept having to remind myself that my job, as a player, was to get ready for the game. But the game around the game was front and center when time was getting tight, with only 3 minutes left: Tim should not park, but drive right to the door and run in; we should send a fan to the door and run in the sheet and cards.

Again, a reminder to get ready for the game. The extra ‘drama’ around this game was a distraction. When Tim did return, I had to be ready to jump on the field and play.

With less than a minute to spare, after catching all possible red lights, Tim arrived with the game sheet and player cards.  We played a shorter than usual game.  The distraction didn’t win – we were ready for the game and won 4-0.

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This soccer team is a group of neighbours and friends who decided to learn to play soccer in 2008.  We practiced for a full year before fielding our first team in 2009. We have learned a lot along the way.

Game One
Game One – May 2009

In my very first blog post in 2009, What does soccer have to do with leadership?, I noticed that the the lessons we were learning on the field apply to life. Simple principles :

  1. My mate will only do her best if I give her the space she needs.
  2. To give her the space she needs, I must trust that she can do it.
  3. My worries about protecting our net harm my team’s ability to reach our goal.
  4. Trusting my mates makes me open to the play around me.

The learning, as we field a team for our 5th season this summer, continues. I have learned that even when off the field, taking time for a rest, serves time on the field (Is it time to sub off?).  At the end of season one, the words of my teammate Veronica reverberated: when I have the ball I can’t see anything else. Our discussions as a team revealed a lot about how our cities and neighbourhoods work too, about how we panic when its our turn with the ball, and how we don’t have to be comfortable with a situation to be able to see.  We just need focus, flow and fun.

There was a point when I realized that there is a game around the game: soccer isn’t really about soccer (the yellow card story). There are layers of game, and a field around the field. There is a game underway physically on the field bounded by the rules, and the strategy, influence, and even manipulation we engage in to either ignore the rules or turn them to our favour. We also learn, playing a physical game at our age (we range from 38 to 56), that we each take turns having to sit on the sidelines due to injury, losing our chance to play the game but gaining opportunities for other things. Two years ago, I received the gift of the sprained ankle, and a whole other perspective of the game: that in a given situation, I can put my energy into fighting or choose to look for unexpected avenues to explore.

As I reflect on my neighbourhood friends and our quest to learn a game new to all but one of us, I see that we are practicing, as friends and neighbours, the wisdom of a 10-year-old friend:

  1. If I do something right, I want to hear about it. I need to know what I am doing right.
  2. If I do something wrong, I want to hear about it. I want to learn how to play the game better.
  3. It is really hard to hear that I am doing something wrong, but I want to hear it anyway.
  4. At times, people are not so good at delivering a message, but I will look past that because I want to hear what s/he has to say.

We are growing as a team and a neighbourhood, on and off the field. Our relationships serve us in private and personal ways, and also professionally. Our relationships surface in our work in neighbourhood volunteering. Our families all connect too – it is a big soccer net supporting us and those around us.

Our work is supporting the potential in each of us.

What relationships support the potential in you?


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This post is part of Chapter 7 – (Un)known Possibilities. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:


Emerging possibility


Our work in cities is about emerging possibilities. We are not planning our cities with linear processes, but rather we are organizing them. It is a messy process, murky and full of uncertainty. Where are we headed? How do we organize to find our way?

I am sharing bits of the book I am working on, Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, here on my blog. For the last few months, I have been immersed in Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence, (Chapters 4-7), where I have been exploring the dynamics of how we organize ourselves.

Here is what I have found.

Cities are meant to be messy, requiring us to change and adjust as individuals and as a collective. Cities create uncertainty for us; they are a journey that is not meant to end, because they generate the conditions for our ongoing learning journey. You may find these 10 practices for the uneasy city journey helpful.

We need to have a sense of where we are going in order to get “there”.  It doesn’t mean we know exactly where we are going, but that we have a sense of direction. Purpose place a significant role in our development, both as a higher order purpose, or sense of direction, and as a specific purpose, a specific destination. Destination is both alive and adrift in us, for we know where we are going and we don’t know where we are going.  In city life, the intrinsic value of each citizen is instrumental to the city. The purpose of the city is to allow us each to reach our full potentials as citizens, but that only happens when each citizen is pursuing the improvements we long to see.

At every turn, on our way to a destination, thresholds emerge, challenging our understanding of the world and our interaction with it. Each threshold is a piece of the learning journey. Our exploration of thresholds allows us to emerge to new destinations.

The never-ending journey to create cities that serve their inhabitants well is evident. We focus on what we want to achieve and we learn about how to get there and we learn along the way. We learn how things work ‘out’ in the world as well as ‘within’ us, and at every turn thresholds emerge to challenge our assumptions, our path, our very focus. In this dance, we revisit everything: our focus, what we are learning and what is emerging within and around us.

This is the dance – FOCUS, LEARN and EMERGE.

And this dance is dancing with the habitat that is both given to us, created by us, and forever in relationship with us. As we engage as individuals and collectives with in this dance, our nests change with us to meet our needs. The result of this dance is wonderful possibilities, both known and unknown. How well we dance, with self, other and our city nests, has an impact on the quality of the possibilities we create.

This next round of posts will conclude Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence with pieces of Chapter 7 – Unknown Possibilities. These coming posts will knit together destination, journey and emergence to illuminate how we can unleash the possibilities that surround us – for ourselves and our cities.

What possibilities do you see for your self, others and your city?

Focus learn and emerge nest 2.044


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As I begin sharing parts Chapter 7 – (Un)known Possibilities, here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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Emerging to new destinations


I started this series of posts with emerging thresholds, a post that articulated my transition in writing about “destination” (Chapter 5) to writing about “emergence” (Chapter 6).  I recognize that I am now making a transition out of “emergence” and into “possibility”. Before I do so, I need to revisit the three elements that are crucial organizing ourselves in cities: journey, destination and emergence.

Destination venn

A key habitat we build for ourselves on our evolutionary journey is cities, and they are meant to feel uneasy. Cities are a platform for our never-ending journey, in which we see need for great improvement. The improvement we see is a destination that is both alive and adrift. Our destinations/purposes are both planned and not planned, for they are continuously shaped and reshaped by our life conditions. What emerges along our journey depends upon our destination and journey AND changes our destination and journey. These three elements are in a continual dance with each other.

We never build the city we think we will – or the lives we think we will – because what we conceive of what we want moves as learn on our journey to get there. And when we “get there” we see a new destination to move in. A new destination has emerged to challenge us to improve.

When it comes to organizing our cities, and all the intelligence embedded within them, it is essential to spend time noticing where we wish to go and how we’ll get there. It is equally important to ensure we create habitats to learn along the way so that as things emerge to thwart or aid our efforts we skillfully navigate our way, creating new patterns of order on the other side of chaos. We learn to handle new life conditions, get comfortable with those life conditions until we reach another chasm, facing another journey across another threshold and a new order again.

Thresholds have a critical role to play in our individual and collective learning and growth. Each is the ‘shoreline of a new world’, as John O’Donohue puts it. It is a reminder that my/our chosen destination, the direction we wish to move in, is in another world and we need to embark on a journey to get there.  And when we get there, it won’t be what we thought. It can’t be, because it is another world. Being in relationship with thresholds is a learning journey itself, where we begin to think, make and do new things, allowing new patterns to emerge. The quality of our relationships with the thresholds we face – as individuals and as a collective – is a factor in our reaching desired destinations.

So we articulate where we wish to go – a direction, or a specific destination. Along the way, we encounter things that get in the way of moving in the direction we wish. Life conditions change in any manner or at any scale, requiring adjustment on our part. The obstacles can be any manner of chasm – threshold – that requires us shift and adjust. Our adjustments take place consciously and unconsciously. We learn consciously and unconsciously, spurred on by persistent practical problems. We struggle with chasms seen and unseen.

In the end, we chaotically reorganize ourselves by exploring our  in-tuition. We  take a step back from the edge as needed in order to choose the right leap for the context. We are learning how to let a scary idea warm us up first, then explore the inner struggle, recognizing that each struggle is powering us up for something bigger and more challenging.

The more we consciously explore the thresholds before us, and their nature within us, we will make wiser choices: go forward or turn away.

It is in each of us to reach the places we wish to go.

What thresholds must you cross to reach the places you wish to go?

What thresholds must we cross to reach the places we wish to go?


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Sources / Further reading

Peggy Holman, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity

John O’Donohue, Bless the Space Between Us

David Whyte, The Three Marriages

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This post forms part of Chapter 6 – Emerging Thresholds, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

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The inevitable warmth of the Self


There is a point where the leap in front of me feels inevitable. It’s not rational, or even easy to explain. I just know it is time. Bruce Grierson describes it this way:

Every day, in almost every field, individuals perceive themselves to be on the wrong side of a divide.  The ‘second brain’ in their gut – that ten-billion nerve knot – tells them their life must change.  And, on more or at least deeply personal, grounds, they jump the gap.  The apprehension can seem so sudden that it straightens them in their chair – and then seems inevitable.

The divide shows up in a variety of ways. It can be a chasm I have been walking alongside for years but choosing not to look over and see what’s on my flank. It can be non-existent until something happens in life that makes it magically appear. It can sneak up on my consciousness, or it can boldly jump out in front of me.

Regardless of how it appears, when it is in front of me and I look at it fully, I recognize its inevitability. The persistent, practical problems I face will not be resolved until I cross the divide. I am compelled to leap, yet I must choose the right leap, and to do so, I must allow myself opportunities to step back from the edge from time to time.

Facing a threshold, let alone crossing it, is significant work because it requires us to delve into our inner knowledge, our in-tuition.  Our recognition of the crossing comes not from others, but from within. Our ability to make the crossing comes not from others, but from within.

From threshold to threshold new layers of our being emerge. What we become, and our ‘becoming’ relies heavily on our ability to explore our inner struggles. This is not easy work. It’s like looking into the sun: compelling and harmful. We can not fully look into ourselves, but we can let the bright sun warm us up. As the sun travels with us everywhere, so too does the Self, the higher Self in each of us that wants us to do well, be well and become our fullest potential.

Struggle, conflict and tension are not avoidable in life. I believe they are part of our lives because they serve as opportunities to learn. Each time we face a struggle, small, large or monstrous, we have a choice – go forward or turn away. Both choices are right. Its the choice itself that offers the opportunity to learn about our struggles and our path to become our fullest potential, as individuals, as families, neighbourhoods, organizations, cities and as a species.

John O’Donohue:

Without warning, thresholds can open directly before our feet.  These thresholds are also the shorelines of new worlds.

As we make our way through the world, we struggle regularly. When we choose to explore our struggles for what they teach us about ourselves, we begin to explore the shorelines of new worlds.  As we explore the world, shoreline by shoreline, we learn of the intelligence within each and all of us, basking in the warmth of what we know.

What shorelines are you exploring?


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This post forms part of Chapter 6 – Emerging Thresholds, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

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Bruce Grierson, U-Turn: What if you woke up one morning and realized you were living the wrong life?

John O’Donohue, Bless the Space Between Us

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